Mukasey confirmed as attorney general
9 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The Senate confirmed retired judge
Michael Mukasey as attorney general Thursday night to
replace Alberto Gonzales, who was forced from office
in a scandal over his handling of the Justice
Mukasey was confirmed as the nation's 81st attorney
general after a sharp debate over his refusal to say
whether the waterboarding interrogation technique is
Republicans were solidly behind President Bush'
nominee. Democrats said their votes were not so much
for Mukasey as they were for restoring a leader to a
Justice Department left adrift after Gonzales'
resignation in September.
In the end, Mukasey was confirmed by a 53-40 vote. Six
Democrats and one independent joined Republicans in
sealing his confirmation.
The choice, according to one of those Democrats, was
essentially between "whether to confirm Michael
Mukasey as the next attorney general or whether to
leave the Department of Justice without a real leader
for the next 14 months," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of
"This is the only chance we have," she said, referring
to Bush's threat to appoint an acting attorney general
not subject to Senate confirmation.
But members of her own party didn't agree. Mukasey,
his opponents argued, refused to say whether
waterboarding is torture and put the onus on Congress
to pass a law against the practice.
"This is like saying when somebody murders somebody
with a a baseball bat and you say, 'We had a law
against murder but we never mentioned baseball bats,'"
said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"Murder is murder. Torture is torture."
Being better than Gonzales or an acting attorney
general is not enough qualification for the job, said
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
"The next attorney general must restore confidence in
the rule of law," he said. "We cannot afford to take
the judgment of an attorney general who either does
not know torture when he sees it or is willing to look
the other way."
The confirmation vote capped 10 months of scandal and
resignations at the Justice Department. Mukasey's
chief Democratic patron, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,
drove the probe into the purge of nine federal
prosecutors that helped push Gonzales out.
The debate came after a tense day of negotiations that
at one point featured Majority Leader Harry Reid
threatening to postpone Mukasey's confirmation until
December. His confirmation had long been certainty
despite the debate over waterboarding.
Waterboarding, used by interrogators to make someone
feel as if he is going to drown, is banned by domestic
law and international treaties. But U.S. law applies
to Pentagon personnel and not the CIA. The
administration won't say whether it has allowed the
agency's employees to use it against terror detainees.
"The United States will not be viewed kindly if we
confirm as chief law enforcement officer of this
country someone who is unwilling or unable to
recognize torture when he sees it," said Sen. Dick
Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.
Mukasey has called waterboarding personally
"repugnant," and in a letter to senators said he did
not know enough about how it has been used to define
it as torture. He also said he thought it would be
irresponsible to discuss it since doing so could make
interrogators and other government officials
vulnerable to lawsuits.
"He felt that he could not make that pronouncement
without placing people at risk to be sued or perhaps
even criminally prosecuted," said Sen. Arlen Specter
of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate
Mukasey, who received a strong endorsement from
Schumer, was the White House's first choice to replace
Gonzales. Gonzales announced his resignation on Aug.
27, and the White House interviewed Mukasey the same
day. Three weeks later, Bush introduced the
66-year-old Mukasey as "a tough but fair judge" and
asked the Senate to confirm him quickly.
Mukasey, the former chief U.S. district judge in the
Manhattan courthouse just blocks from ground zero, was
first appointed to the bench in 1987 by President
Reagan. He also worked for four years as a trial
prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York's
Southern District one of the Justice Department's
busiest and highest-profile offices in the country.
Mukasey oversaw some of the nation's most significant
terror trials in the years before and after the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He sentenced Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the "blind
sheik," to life in prison for a plot to blow up New
York City landmarks, and he signed in 2002 the
material witness warrant that let the FBI arrest U.S.
citizen Jose Padilla. That warrant marked the start of
a case that wound its way through several federal
courts as the government declared Padilla an enemy
combatant and held him for 3 1/2 years before he was
convicted last month on terrorism-related charges.
In an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal,
Mukasey criticized U.S. national security law as too
weak in some areas by noting that prosecutors are
sometimes forced to reveal details of cases at the
risk of tipping off terrorists. He is also a supporter
of the government's anti-terror USA Patriot Act, wryly
writing in 2004 that the "awkward name may very well
be the worst thing about the statute."
Mukasey, a partner at New York-based law firm
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, is also a close friend
to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican.
He stepped down as an adviser to Giuliani's
presidential campaign, on which he served as part of
an advisory committee on judicial nominations.
Besides Schumer and Feinstein, Democrats voting to
confirm Mukasey were: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom
Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben
Nelson of Nebraska. Of the Senate's two independents,
Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted for confirmation
and Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted against.
Not voting were Democratic presidential candidates Joe
Biden of Delaware, Hillary Clinton of New York, Chris
Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois. All
four had said they opposed Mukasey's nomination.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain of
Arizona also was absent, as were GOP Sens. Lamar
Alexander of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas.
On the Net:
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov